The daily procession of ferries in and out of Oban Bay makes it a popular destination for ship photographers, and if you are lucky, you are blessed with a weather window that generates gloriously sunny images. But what happens when, with limited time and opportunity, you find that the sun refuses to oblige? In August this year CRSC member John Park travelled north in hope, only to encounter cloud and rain. Nevertheless, as John explains in words and pictures, his was not a wasted trip.
Oban presents more opportunities than any other port to photograph different members of the CalMac fleet, with five major units due to call there on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer months. I wanted to take advantage of this, and began making careful plans for the best photo positions on the first Saturday of August, while also including a few sailings over the rest of the weekend.
These plans began to unravel before I had even left my Northumberland home. First came news that Hebridean Isles had broken her nose at Kennacraig and would not be repaired in time to make her usual Saturday afternoon appearance. Following on from this, some unseasonal gales were forecast to arrive on the west coast during the weekend. My plans began to look quite precarious, but as everything was already booked I decided to carry on anyway.
Things started off well on the Friday evening when Clansman arrived back from Colonsay shortly after 2100 with a glorious sunset forming behind her. Just as this was taking place the CalMac website was updated to advise that the Saturday Barra sailings had been brought forward by five hours because of the weather forecast. This seemed to represent another blow to my plans, with Isle of Lewis now dropping out of the afternoon schedule in addition to ‘Heb Isles’ — but strangely it was to prove quite the opposite.
A closer study of the timetable revealed that there would now be a whole flurry of arrivals and departures early on between 0715 and 0845. If I was up and out of my hotel before breakfast then it might just be possible to photograph this unusual early morning ‘rush hour’ at Oban, weather permitting of course.
Saturday morning dawned overcast with intermittent drizzle in the air, but I quietly slipped out the hotel undeterred and took up a position at the war memorial. It proved to be well worth the effort.
First departure of the day was the ever-busy Clansman on the first of her two trips to Coll and Tiree at 0715. As she swept purposefully out the bay, Coruisk and Isle of Lewis could both be seen in the misty background heading towards Oban.
A lightly loaded Coruisk was first to enter the bay with her first crossing of the day from Craignure, due to arrive at Oban at 0745. Coruisk does seem to be functional and reliable but she just doesn’t get any easier on the eye with the passing years.
Next on the move was Isle of Mull on her 0745 departure for Craignure, and she cleared the linkspan just as Coruisk was approaching. Isle of Mull’s clearance of the bay was the prompt for the waiting Isle of Lewis to begin moving again, and the two large “Isles” passed at close quarters shortly after.
Isle of Lewis then swept in, having picked up impressive speed from her standing start off Kerrera. Her size and style gave her a real presence as she crossed the bay. She had in fact been re-scheduled to arrive at 0745 but this clashed with both Mull ferries, so she berthed just after 0800.
After the largest ferry of the day it was the turn of the smallest, with Loch Striven setting off from the slipway for Lismore around 10 minutes late at 0810. She appeared lightly loaded with only two passengers visible on deck.
Loch Striven was barely halfway across the bay when Coruisk departed again on her 0815 sailing to Mull. With only five minutes between their departures, Coruisk came quite close to catching Loch Striven up by the time their courses diverged off Maiden Island.
After a brief lull in the action Isle of Lewis was next on the move, departing slightly later than planned at 0855 on her return sailing to Barra. Again showing off her impressive performance, she made a spirited exit from the bay before turning and setting course towards the Sound of Mull.
In a spell lasting just over an hour and a half I had witnessed a remarkable seven arrivals and departures, and photographed just about everything I had set out to do. Not at the location I originally had in mind and certainly not at the time I had planned either, but after my initial plans had fallen apart it was the most rewarding spell I could possibly have hoped for.
As I stood in the light drizzle contemplating this good fortune I became aware of a faint but rather pleasant smell wafting along Corran Esplanade. Or was it just my imagination?
It wasn’t imagination at all, it was breakfasts now being cooked in some of the Esplanade hotels nearby, and quite possibly mine! My priorities changed and further photography would have to wait until later. Frequent heavy downpours littered the rest of the day, which limited photography to the relatively dry spells in between.
The gale force winds duly arrived as forecast on the Sunday morning, leaving Clansman and Isle of Lewis stormbound all day and Coruisk and Loch Striven running on amber alert. This put paid to any plans I had for sailing that day — which seemed to make my Saturday morning achievements all the more fortunate.
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